Thursday, July 19, 2012

Is Ikaria Flying Too Close to the Sun? A Greek Islet Keen to Join Austria Should Be Careful What It Wishes for

The chap does look a tad Aryan, doesn’t he?

While the European Union (E.U.) and the financial world and Greeks themselves ponder the question of whether the Hellenic Republic (i.e., Greece) could—or should or will—leave the Eurozone, one part of Greece is answering the question in an unexpected way.  It also raises another question: is there any way that Mediterranean beaches could become even more polluted with Germans and Austrian sunbathers?  I’ll explain ...

The location of Ikaria, a Greek island off the coast of Turkey

Ikaria (also spelled Icaria), an island off the Turkish coast of Asia Minor but part of Greece—and the mythic home of Daedalus and Icarus, hence its name—is openly pondering whether to resolve some left over business from half-forgotten nineteenth-century wars between no-longer-existing states and apply to join the Republic of Austria.  Ikaria was absorbed in 1521 into the Ottoman Empire—from which it tried but failed to secede during the Greek War of Independence in 1827.  (See my blog article which includes a profile of the Greek independence heroine Laskarina Bouboulina as one of “The World’s 21 Sexiest Separatists.”)  Along with Crete, Ikaria was one of the Greek-populated areas excluded from the independent Kingdom of Greece founded that year with the backing of France, the United Kingdom, the Russian Empire, and others.  During the First Balkan War, in 1912-1913, Ikaria expelled Turkish troops and established itself as an independent state.

George Spanos of Evdilos, hero of the expulsion of the Ottoman Turks from Ikaria in 1912

The Free State of Ikaria existed only from July 1912 to November 1912, when it was made part of the Kingdom of Greece.  During the Greek Civil War of 1945-1947, Ikaria was a redoubt of Communist forces and is still a bastion of support for the Communist Party of Greece (K.K.E.), earning it the nickname Red Ikaria.  Now the 100-year agreement between the Kingdom of Greece and the Ottoman Empire on the status of Ikaria is set to expire, and Ikarians are considering a referendum on whether to join, of all countries, Austria.

Flag of the Free State of Ikaria

Why Austria?  Well, there is no real logic to it, except that both the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire were on the same losing side of the First World War, in 1918, and of course the 9,000 inhabitants of Ikaria would never consent to being part of the Republic of Turkey.  More to the point, though: last year the president of the Austrian Federal Economic Chamber (W.K.Ö.), Christoph Leitl, made a controversial, half-joking suggestion that Greece, as the economic basket case widely viewed by central and northern Europeans as having caused the financial crisis, could sell some of its islands to Turkey in order to bail itself out of trouble, rather than expecting the E.U.’s richer nations to do so.  (See my article on Umberto Bossi’s idea of Greater Padania as another absurd expression of this northern attitude.)

Austrian xenophobe Christoph Leitl
We can only hope that the bowel movement being attempted
in this candid photo was a successful one.

So the latest Ikarian proposal, surely half-joking as well, is a thumb in the eye of Austria’s famously xenophobic political establishment.

Ikaria’s mayor, Stafrinadis Christodoulos, was quoted this week in Die Welt, a newspaper in Germany, saying, “The government has forgotten us years ago.  If one cannot assure us new roads and a hospital, we may decide to break away from Athens.  It is difficult for us to remain independent.  But we could demand the annexation to another country.  Of course, not to Turkey, better to Austria.”  It is not yet clear how many Ikarians favor the idea, but the Greek government issued a furious statement to the media on July 17th, reiterating that all the Greek islands along the Asia Minor coast, which it has always seen as militarily vulnerable, were sanctified as Greek territory in the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne.  In Austria, on the other hand, the idea is polling with an 83% thumbs-up.

It would be their first warm-water port since they lost Dubrovnik in 1918.

How much the Greek economy worsens between now and the treaty’s November 2012 expiration date may determine how seriously the idea may eventually get taken. 

Nearly paradise.  All it needs is a few bierkellers and bratwurst stands.

[Also, for those who are wondering, yes, this blog is tied in with a forthcoming book, a sort of encyclopedic atlas to be published by Auslander and Fox under the title Let’s Split! A Complete Guide to Separatist Movements, Independence Struggles, Breakaway Republics, Rebel Provinces, Pseudostates, Puppet States, Tribal Fiefdoms, Micronations, and Do-It-Yourself Countries, from Chiapas to Chechnya and Tibet to Texas.  Look for it in spring 2013.  I will be keeping readers posted of further publication news.]

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